Gun-rights advocates responded broadly to President Obama’s measures aimed at keeping firearms away from the mentally ill, with many conveying a general mistrust of the administration on gun issues and cautioning that “the devil’s in the details” of the newest proposals.
“Nobody, including gun owners, wants anyone with a severe mental illness to be able to get a gun,” Dave Dalton, founder of the American Gun Owners Alliance, told Newsmax. “And all the shootings we’ve seen over the last year have been by someone who has been mentally unstable.
“But the fact of the matter is, they’re addressing something in a way that makes gun owners nervous — and the devil’s going to be in the details.”
“We really have a problem with what they’re doing and the way they’re doing it,” said Jeff Knox, director of the Firearms Coalition. “Congress has looked at this issue and has rejected action on this issue.
“When Congress looks at something and says ‘no’, that’s not traditionally a green light for the White House to go and do it on their own.
“That’s an overreach on the part of the executive — and if we had a Congress and a system that was functioning properly, they would slap him down for this and they would refuse to allow this to happen,” Knox said.
Under the measures announced by the White House, the Justice Department will propose changes to the federal background check system to clarify who under U.S. law is prohibited from possessing a firearm because of mental health problems.
The Department of Health and Human Services also will propose a regulation aimed at making it easier for states to submit information about the mentally ill to the federal system, without blocking all people who seek mental health treatment from owning guns.
“The administration is committed to making sure that anyone who may pose a danger to themselves or others does not have access to a gun,” the White House said in a statement. “The federal background check system is the most effective way to assure that such individuals are not able to purchase a firearm from a licensed gun dealer.”
Unable to win passage of gun-control legislation after mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December 2012, President Barack Obama said last year that he would begin using executive authority to tighten firearms regulation.
Many of the groups reached by Newsmax participated in the White House’s three-day summit last January on ways to stem gun violence in wake of the Newtown shootings headed by Vice President Joe Biden. The National Rifle Association characterized the session as an attack on Second Amendment rights.
The NRA declined to comment Friday on the latest proposals — saying that it needed time to review them — but the other guns groups charged that the plans would adversely affect legitimate gun owners.
“There’s a reason we hate the ATF,” Knox said, referring to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agency is under the Justice Department and operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
“They’ve earned our animosity. They came after us over and over again. There’s a reason we can’t be reasonable about gun-control laws and regulations.
“Every time they promulgate a new law or a new regulation, they try and make it sound like it’s about keeping bad guys and crazy people away from guns, but the way it’s enforced is always they come after us — the regular gun owners, because we’re the easy targets.
“It’s really difficult to find bad guys and crazy people and catch them in the act,” Knox added. “It’s really easy to find me — to comb through my files, my gun safe, my paperwork — and find some error that I’ve made and hang me out to dry because of it.
“They’re using these laws to attack us, not go after bad guys, and that’s the big problem.”
Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, noted how the White House described the proposals as “common-sense solutions.”
“If it was so common sensible, we would have done this years ago,” he told Newsmax. “It may sound like common sense on the surface, but as you get down into the issue, it becomes far more difficult.
“It’s really a balancing question between very substantial constitutional freedoms and the rights and responsibilities of not just the individual but of society and the mentally ill.
“I no longer give the benefit of the doubt to the government — and that’s true when it comes to gun rights,” he added. “It’s true when it comes to censorship. My orientation has changed a bit.”
The NCIS system was bitterly attacked, with the advocates saying that it lacked critical information on the mentally ill because Justice had not provided the states the money to report it.
In 2007, Congress approved legislation providing Justice with $30.1 million to give to the states. So far, only about 5.3 percent of that has been paid out.
In fact, the paltry funding was derided by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’sMayors Against Illegal Guns after the 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz. Six people died in the shooting and 13 others were wounded, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“You’ve got executive orders coming out to address a problem, when a law that was passed seven years ago hasn’t even been funded yet,” Dalton, of the American Gun Owners Alliance, told Newsmax. “If that law had been fully funded in 2008, would we have had the kind of problems with mental health shooters today?
“We don’t know, but it sure as heck may have stopped a few of them.
“Instead of funding something that everybody agreed on, we’re going to tack more executive orders on top of it. That’s the kind of stuff that aggravates gun owners.”
In addition, Justice would also clarify the legal term “committed to a mental institution” to include patients who have been committed by a court to both inpatient and outpatient facilities.
That proposal, the gun groups charge, could strip someone of their right to bear arms for the rest of their lives based upon a singular crisis that might have occurred early in someone’s past.
“A lot of people go through crisis in their lives — and some people go through extreme measures,” Dalton said. “If you have one problem in your life, and you learn to deal with it, and you get over it, should that mean that your Second Amendment right is stripped from you forever? That’s what gun owners are afraid of.
“The one thing gun owners are going to want to see in these regulations is there a way that you can apply to get yourself off the list?” he asked. “It’s these open-ended executive orders that just aggravate gun owners and gun-rights advocates.
“You can’t crucify somebody for their whole life for something they did one time because of special circumstances.”
The new regulations have to be clear here to be effective, Cedric Alexander, police chief of DeKalb County, Ga., told Newsmax.
In August, Michael Brandon Hill, 20, opened fire at an elementary school in the county outside Atlanta with an AK-47 before being talked into surrendering his weapon by a school bookkeeper. None of the 800 students was injured.
Hill admitted to being off his medication for a mental disorder.
“Defining that to a very fine point is going to be very difficult,” said Alexander, who has worked with Feldman’s organization on gun issues. “Just because someone has a mental health issue — maybe they’ve had one that’s longstanding — and they are managing it well, you still have to separate those folks out from those who have a history of doing real harm to themselves or others.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said of the White House proposals. “It opens up further discussion, but it’s not going to be an exact science — because people are more complicated than that.”
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